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A quick, accurate way to determine if a chemical causes cancer? Researchers say they’ve got one

Photo: Milos Dimic/iStockphoto

Boston — A group of researchers from the Boston University schools of medicine and public health has developed what it calls a “fast, accurate and cost-effective approach” to test whether certain chemicals increase people’s cancer risk.

The researchers exposed human cell lines to hundreds of chemicals – both cancer-causing and non-cancer causing. They produced genetic profiles from those exposed cells and fed the profiles into a computer model. The model’s accuracy was then tested on the carcinogenicity of the chemicals.

Results showed the process was 72.2% accurate for predicting whether a chemical caused cancer and 82.3% accurate for predicting whether it could cause cancer.

Less than 2% of the “tens of thousands” commercially used chemicals have been tested for potential carcinogenicity because the current process is often costly and time-consuming, an April 9 press release from BU states. The release also states that 90% to 95% of cancer cases and cancer deaths may be attributable to environmental causes such as chemical exposure.

Researchers caution that “more work needs to be done before this approach can be applied in regulatory and clinical settings,” but they hope it will spur others to “join the effort to develop more cost-effective approaches to chemical screening.”

The study was published April 9 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. More information is available at

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